More than 1.6 million Americans are actively serving in the U.S. Armed Forces with 21.8 million more veterans at home. These brave men and women deserve our gratitude every day of the year, but especially around the holidays. Here, we’ve rounded up our favorite organizations that support the troops while they’re on active duty and after they’ve come home.
For active-duty military members, talking with loved ones back home provides untold comfort and keeps important family connections alive. Cell Phones for Soldiers helps them do this. Since 2004, the organization has been collecting used cell phones and using the proceeds to send prepaid international calling cards to troops overseas. To get involved, simply mail in your old cell phone with a printable packing label or drop it off at one of the many collection sites around the country. By recycling your old phone, you’re helping the environment, too.
Get crafty for a good cause. Operation Gratitude sends more than 100,000 care packages to troops overseas every year and each one contains a handmade item. On the Operation Gratitude blog, founder Carolyn Blashek writes that scarves “send the very warm and loving message that people at home care enough to take the time and effort to make something as beautiful as a scarf.” Scarves of all patterns are warmly welcomed.
Man’s best friend can also be a returning soldier’s lifesaver. A physical injury, traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder can make adjusting back to civilian life difficult or impossible for many veterans. Service dogs, with their bottomless love and devotion, can make a profound difference in the lives of veterans suffering from these conditions. With a donation to Puppies Behind Bars, you’re helping two populations in need: prison inmates and wounded war veterans. The organization trains prison inmates to raise service dogs who are then placed with veterans. In turn, prison inmates learn valuable professional skills and veterans get devoted companions.
Give an active-duty soldier support and a taste of home when they’re far away. Active in more than 170 countries and territories around the world, Adopt A US Soldier connects soldiers with civilians who want to show their gratitude. The mother of a soldier stationed in Iraq founded the organization after she learned of the huge emotional impact that words of encouragement and care packages can provide. It’s an opportunity to develop a one-on-one relationship with a currently serving soldier. Supporters send one letter a week and an optional care package once a month. Commitments can be short-term or long-term.
Active-duty soldiers sacrifice so much to serve our country, including giving up precious time with their children. United Through Reading helps keep the parent-child bond thriving by recording and distributing videos of soldiers reading bedtime stories for their children back home. In 2014, the organization served more than 100,000 beneficiaries. You can get involved through a donation on the website or by volunteering your time in a variety of ways.